On Subjectivity

Almost every form rejection I’ve gotten has included a line on how subjective the publishing industry is, and I shouldn’t feel disheartened that I didn’t snag whichever agent I had queried and been subsequently rejected by.

I shouldn’t feel disheartened.

But I do.

Each rejection hammers the nail a little bit further in, each thud echoes you’re not good enough.

Truthfully, it’s not as disheartening now as it was in the beginning. I have a better idea of that subjectivity. I experience it when I look for another book to read; I am subjective in my selection. The book has to have a certain appeal to me, a certain set of qualifiers, in order for me to want to read it (smart female lead, sassy male love interest, gray morals, fantasy setting, etc.)

It’s the same for agents. It’s the same for publishers. They have a much better idea of what sells and what doesn’t, what’s tried and true, and what’s crap. (Like second person. No one does it because it doesn’t work. You’re not being innovative in writing a novel in second person.)

So, I’m not as depressed when I send a round of queries and they come back rejections. Or don’t come back at all.

Still, it’s depressing to go through the new releases and find some so abysmal I don’t understand how any agent thought it was a good choice, especially over mine. I’m talking those books with overdone, stereotype-overload premises, cookie-cutter characters, insta-love, stupid love triangles, faceless villains, bad descriptions, telling not showing – everything about the book screams stupid. Yet it made it through the smokescreen of querying, onto an agent’s desk, under the nose of a professional, seasoned editor, and into the bookstores.

My response: WTF?!

And there are new books that are so similar to mine that I think, “Why did this get pulled out of the slush pile while mine didn’t?”

When I interned for a university press, I remember the piles – MOUNTAINOUS PILES – of submitted manuscripts. I mean, there were hundreds of them. In shipping boxes, in envelopes, in all kinds of packaging. Hundreds. Stacked against the wall, on shelves. Everywhere. I can’t even imagine what the slush pile would look like in an agent’s office – one of the wonders of technology is that the slush pile is virtual, not a haven for mice, spiders, snakes, and disintegrating shipping peanuts.

Subjectivity is a huge factor in the manuscript selection, but so is luck. An agent can only represent so many works at a time, and work on so many projects at a time.

Disheartening? You bet. Enough to make me throw in the towel? Not even close.

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